The Pain of Repentance

It was in my fencing class about year ago that I first saw them, those funny looking shoes that had toes. They actually have toes! Instead of being rounded across the front like shoes they have little pockets, one for each toe. I am one that does not like having things between my toes and so these things were immediately on my list of items not to get. As I began to see more and more of them around my curiosity began to grow. What was so attractive about these funny toe shoes?

My wife and I were in the mall not long ago. She was looking for a lightweight shoe for one of her exercise classes. We popped into the shoe place and began looking around. There, before us, was a large variety of funny toe shoes. The sales person explained how traditional shoes offered so much support that it didn’t allow your foot to function as intended. These goofy shoes with the individual toes were part of a “barefoot running movement” that is a return to original intent. Using your feet and all their muscle groups would increase strength, balance, and agility which have been lost through the use of traditional shoes. My beloved tried on a pair and instantly loved them. We then had a pair of funny little toe shoes in our home.

I began thinking about the concept behind the shoes with toes. They are a return to original intent. I wondered what it would be like to feel my feet work the way they were meant to when I walked, ran, and exercised. The benefits were desirable, but it meant that I would have to overcome my presuppositions and step out of my comfort zone.

It took about two weeks for me to find my way to the shoe store to try on some funny little toe shoes. They were weird, but tolerable. It would take some getting used to, but it was not the inter-toe nightmare that I invisioned…so I got them. I heard you have to break them in slowly so I just wore them around for a few days, a little bit at a time. Even just that began to yield fruit.

Just walking around in my new toe shoes began to wake up parts of my feet that had grown weak and lazy from lack of use. Understand, I am not a barefoot kind of guy. I wear shoes and I don’t like things (especially people) touching my feet. I’ve come to call these funny toe shoes my Hobbit feet because it’s so much like being barefoot, but you can step on rocks and walk on rough ground without suffering. I could feel the tops, arch, and achillies being worked. The first time I ran in them I was gimpy-sore not more than 30 minutes later. These shoes were definitely different and in order to reap the benefits I’ll have to persevere through the pain.

Now, this may sound like a commercial for Vibram 5-Finger shoes, but it is really an analogy of the Christian life. God is, and has been, working to bring us back to his original intent – to restore us. Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ God has made a way for us to return to him and embrace a new life. This new life that we are given comes with some amazing benefits, but it can be painful leaving behind those attitudes, values, priorities, and desires that come so naturally to us. Like the apostle Paul said, “I beat my body and make it my slave…” (1 Corinthians 9:27). In other words, putting off the old self and putting on the new is not easy and can sometimes be outright painful. Surrender is so freeing, but it can be so costly to your flesh.

Like retraining your feet to work like they were intended, learning to follow Christ – to live like you were intended – can be painful. You will notice a lot of good, but only as you persevere through the pain. If you are not experiencing any pain in your pursuit of Christ, if you wrestle and struggle with nothing, I would suggest that you aren’t doing it right. Owning the funny toe shoes and keeping them in your closet or next to your gym bag (you know, the one that goes with the gym membership you seldom use) does you no good. Owning a Bible, and even knowing what it says, is not going to do you any good if you don’t go through the pain of applying it. “Do not merely listen to the Word and so deceive yourselves, do what it says!” (James 1:22)

Often the Bible refers to God’s refining work as a fire. The imagery is that of a smelter that heats up gold or silver making a liquid where all the impurities rise to the surface. This process for you will be uncomfortable or even painful. Again, the apostle Paul spoke of retraining himself to find his value, purpose, and power in Christ rather than his accomplishments and the things he could obtain, manage, and manipulate. In Philippians 3:10 he concludes, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…” As your spirit prospers, your flesh will suffer. The more of your old self that dies off, the more the new self – created to be like Christ Jesus – will thrive and the closer you come to God.

You were created in the image of God. That image is skewed by our selfish, sinful nature. We have come to rely on lesser things to support us and get us through…like shoes that support your feet and prevent them from functioning as intended. God is at work to restore his image – to restore you to the image in which he created you. Like funny little toe shoes he wants to free you from the constraints of this world and your flesh and train you to function properly. In this he is glorified and the world can see, in you, what it looks like to live in a restored and right relationship with God. Imagine what your life would look like and the impact it will have when you cast off everything that hinders and run the race as you were intended to.

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